In the Eye of Tea

After a 5-course afternoon tea, the three of us felt our stomachs’ calling. The wind blew chilly moisture from the sea. A hearty dinner of noodle in hot broth would hit the spot, one that was saturated with oolong. Quite appropriately, we walked into O Chamé, meaning “eye of tea”(*) literally and “playful little one” colloquially. It’s Mother’s Day, no reservation, we couldn’t be any luckier that the guy found us three seats at the end of the bar. Of course, who would skip the appetizers. And of course, we couldn’t decide on just one appetizer, so we ordered three. The potato and snow crab croquette ($8.50), buttery but mild, tastes ten times better after a dip in the plumier-than-usual-and-not-too-sour tonkatsu sauce. Usually I don’t dip my stuff, but the sauce is a must here. The grilled, caramelized eel ($10.50), Kristen’s choice, is great. Little Mom loves eel, and she would love this. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! A bite into the crisp endive releases a burst of sharp, almost minty air to balance the eel’s fatty sweetness. […]

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I can’t think of a title for Tofu Village

Lately I think I’ve reached a wall in terms of Korean food. To be precise, the Korean food that I can get my hands on, i.e., in the Bay and in Houston. Every Korean restaurant here, in strikingly similar manner to Vietnamese restaurants, has the same menu as every other Korean restaurant. The menu may contain a hundred things, but it boils down to maybe ten, with tiny variations. To be blunt, I’m bragging that I can name practically every dish on a Korean menu in the States. The novelty is gone. Little knowledge is left to obtain. But just as I don’t stop going to Vietnamese eateries altogether, I still like to share a big Korean meal with Mom and Dad. A bubbling jeongol, rice and banchan always give the familiarity that a Western meal cannot. That said, there are a few things that I’m still not used to, such as the scissors. The lady was cutting up the crabs and octopus with big black scissors. I admit their convenience, but I get the weird feeling that she is cutting flowers. Why? I don’t know. Anyway, I didn’t eat […]

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The unpredictable Myung Dong

Unpredictability #1: “Are you opened today?” Before you set your GPS to Myung Dong in Houston, make sure you call and ask that question in the clearest, simplest way possible. Aaron tried different versions, most were a bit too elaborately polite with a perfect American accent, and only succeeded in confusing the poor old man. I tried it once and got the answer “Yes, open.” We hopped en route. (If you don’t call, there’s a slim chance that your schedule will coincide with the owner couple’s schedule, which depends on the lady’s health, and she’s the only chef. That slim chance didn’t happen for me the first time I set out for Myung Dong.) The limited English conversation is nothing uncommon at Korean and Vietnamese mom-and-pop diners, but I have to mention it because it’s one of those things that make me classify Myung Dong as more “authentic” than the other Korean restaurants in Houston. The second thing is that its name doesn’t contain “Seoul” or “Korean”, they go more local: Myungdong (명동) is a part of Seoul (in Vietnam, its equivalent would be a phường). The third thing is that […]

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Korean chilled noodle soup with a few Vietnamese twists

Sometimes my craziness surprises myself. I woke up one morning, reflecting that the week’s been warm, and decided to make mul naengmyeon (물 냉면). Weeks earlier, I bought the buckwheat noodles but never had the time to cook, or the mood. Now I still don’t have time to cook, but today is the day. I remember the main ingredients of a true Korean naengmyeon, but just to make sure that I don’t have them, I look at Maangchi’s recipe anyway. Beef bones? No. Mushroom? No. Dried anchovies? No. Kelp? No. Yeolmu kimchi juice? Hah. In my dreams. I don’t even have cucumber. Am I going to the store? Of course not. The wind might blow away my cooking mood, which is already rare as it is. Besides, I have a blind confidence that what I do have will make a fine bowl. The deaf ain’t scared by gun fires, they (we Vietnamese) say. Naengmyeon has three fundamental components: the broth, the buckwheat noodle, and the toppings. The broth needs to be clear and slender. To get the sweetness, I substitute beef bones by pig trotters. They have plenty of bones, and unfortunately […]

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The Koreans make good pho

Every time I ride the bus on Telegraph, Kang Nam Pho stands out to me like a supernova. (There are these “sorta” cosmologically important exploded stars that have been on my mind for quite some time now, which is an excuse for the sparse blogging of late.) I’ve seen Chinese-owned pho places, but they never have a Chinese name. Pin Toh on Shattuck, which used to be Phở Hòa, has pho cooked by Chinese chefs, but it’s a Thai diner (talk about incognito). In my American pho encounters, Kang Nam Pho is the first instance of a Korean-owned Vietnamese diner with a Korean name. They even put the whole “Phở” with accents on their white-on-red sign, next to “강남 윌남국수” (Kang Nam Wilnam guksu, i.e., Kang Nam Vietnamese Noodle). I like this place already. Their menu is also all in Vietnamese, again, with complete accents albeit some misspellings; there is English description under each name and very little Korean. I vaguely remember bibimbap and bulgogi at some bottom corner of a page, but Kang Nam has things that even a common pho joint wouldn’t always have, such […]

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A Haiku in College Station

Afternoon leaves fall, family of three gathers by hot noodle soups. How d’ya like my first ever haiku, inspired by a linner (lunch/dinner) at Haiku? 5-7-5 syllables (not on, though), with kigo (seasonal reference) and kireji (cutting word) too… You can’t say I didn’t try. This was the easiest Japanese/Korean restaurant we could get to while driving on University. It’s more Japanese than Korean, evident from the short section of bibimbaps and whutnot among everything sushi. Seeing how this weather cries for soups, Mom decides on some piping kalbi tang (갈비탕). It’s not as oomphing good as the one I had at Bi Won in Santa Clara, just how many Koreans live in College station after all (*), but it sure is satisfying with loads of egg in a beef bone stock. […]

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Hương Giang – Savour Huế in Houston

I lost my memory card. If you’re a food blogger too you’d know how devastated I felt: the first advice to a food blogger these days is “good pictures”. Well, the pictures I took at Hương Giang are amazing, they just no longer exist. But, pictures or not, as my professor Lawrence Hall would say in his British tongue, “you can’t stop me,” or in this case, I can’t stop myself from blogging about the restaurant. Is their food that good? Hương Giang takes a shy, small square in the parking lot at the corner of Bellaire and Boone. If you drive westward on Bellaire Blvd, you’ll see its sign on the left before you reach Hong Kong Market. It’s really a tucked-away place for scoffers, the outlook unimpressive, the sign blue and white like a tired worker shirt. The inside is similar to any average pho joints you’ve seen, wiped clean and plastic cheap. I knew my mom wouldn’t come here if not for blogging’s sake, but in this city it’d be hard to get a menu more Huế than this one. There are pictures in the menu and printouts taped […]

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Red Pier on Milam Street

Among the countable Vietnamese restaurant owners that ever bother to make their menus available on the web, Kim Châu and her husband put together quite a decent site for their Red Pier: black background, colorful foods, dazzling images of the bar and the walls, names and prices of 166 dishes minus dessert. Red Pier is a go-to when you work in the ‘hood, have an hour for lunch, and just want some normal noodle soup or vermicelli at a reasonable price. Or when you crave something sweet and cold and nutty, like a chè ba màu (trichromatic bean and tapioca ice). Don’t drive too fast down the one-way Milam, you’d miss the restaurant for sure. It took us a few loops around until we pulled into the right parking lot, just across the street from the proprietors’ other business, Kim Châu Jewelers, on the left side. Also, don’t order Cơm Tôm Rim (rice with caramelized shrimp), unless you’re having salt-deficiency. If you must, Chè Ba Màu proves to be a comforting three-buck companion. Do order #1: Gỏi Sứa Tôm Thịt (jellyfish salad with shrimp and pork), […]

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Kim Son’s Tet in woven baskets

Vietnamese *Guest post in Vietnamese by my Mom, translated by me* Back in the day, I seldom ate from street stalls or vendors’ baskets, my conscience imprinted with my mother’s unmovable doubt on the street food’s cleanliness. Nonetheless, I scurry with no hesitation to make it to Kim Son for lunch today, just because the TV news last night showed that Kim Son has a 9-day New Year food festival where the goodies are sold in baskets, mimicking the vendor stalls in Vietnam. Like usual, the display is a buffet style, but this week the dining hall is decorated with flowers, fruits, and Tet greetings, the food selection is also larger and more interesting than normal days. I notice thịt kho and dưa giá (slow braised pork and pickled bean sprout, two traditional Tet savory dishes), bánh xèo (sizzling crepe), bánh bèo (water fern banh), bánh bột lọc (translucent banh) bánh cống (mung bean fried muffin). In the baskets lie a few types of xôi, bánh tét, and mứt. A tightening mix of homesickness and […]

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Sul Lung Tang at Kunjib Restaurant

The black stone bowl brought out, fuming. The milky ivory broth pulses inside, playfully revealing strips of browned beef. Dig a little deeper, my chopsticks find supple strands of white, thin as spaghetti and slick as bubble tea. I submerge the metal spoon into the liquid, the cream parts and congeals. I take a sip. A few months ago a friend recommended Kunjib as a Korean restaurant unlike any I had been to, and indeed it is. The moment we walk in, the hostesses greet us with twittering an nyong ha sye yo and something that I can only guess to mean “table for two, right?”. I wish I had memorized the phrase list from Sura before coming here, but our waitress quickly realizes that we are different from their other customers and switches to near perfect English. Regardless, I’ll sign up for Korean 1 in the fall semester, I’ve already gotten the Hangul alphabet sorta down. Kunjib is a restaurant of few and focus: white plates, square bamboo chopsticks, tables set connected in straight rows, little decoration, a corner wall TV tuned to Korean channels, icy cold corn tea, a […]

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